I’m really not good with remembering dates like birthdays or relationship anniversaries, even holidays sometimes, but the dates that are marked with a memory manage to lodge themselves in my thoughts, and I even anticipate their arrival.
Where August had been a month with no dates that stood out for me it’s become a month of feline comings and goings, losing Lakota on August 1, Kennedy on August 6 and Kelly on August 11, and the arrival of Basil, then Smokie, on August 25.
As my life has moved through years every month is now full of dates to remember of animals and people, events and places. I’ve dutifully recorded most of them in my day book though it’s mostly the dates my feline friends passed that I observe. By that point, whether weeks or decades, we had shared a life, and the honor of accompanying a living being to the end of your journey together is not a memory easily dismissed. I remember at one point a couple of decades ago as the dates of loss began to accumulate feeling a little foolish about reliving these memories each year. That didn’t stop me, and as the years passed and there were yet more dates to remember I realized it was important for me to take that time and remember the feline who shared a life and a death with me, and remember the time we shared. One of the most important things I’ve learned about our grief at the loss of a pet is that our bond with them is in some ways deeper than it is with humans in our lives because of the unconditional way they love us, and the way they share our space.
In 2015 I wrote that remembering the passing dates for Lakota and Kennedy in 2013 and 2014 felt like a bit of an emotional conflict because they led up to Kelly’s date and I felt that remembrance of other cats might take away from a cat who spent most of her life with me. Even now, seven years after her passing, I find I begin thinking about Kelly’s last weeks even in June because I noticed her behavior change in subtle, yet concerning, ways, and I knew something was happening with her. Still, though I also knew she was 19 years old, I certainly didn’t anticipate losing her on that day, and each year for the first few years after her passing I needed to work through her last two weeks once again to help heal a little more of the grief and guilt I still felt in her loss. She unexpectedly collapsed that morning and the emergency hospital diagnosed seizures and neurological issues, possibly that her increasing inflammatory bowel disease had metastasized to her brain, or that the anemia and low body temperature indicated a mass that began bleeding internally. Each year I walk through it all and reassure myself that I noticed and reported many things to my veterinarian, that there was nothing I could have noticed to alert me to her condition that morning, and even if I had noticed there was nothing I could have done. In the face of what did happen, I kept her well and healthy up to her last moments. I did have to have her put to sleep at the emergency hospital and I really prefer for both the cat and me that happen at home so they don’t end up frightened in a strange place in their last moments, especially Kelly, and I can focus on the cat and not on driving through my tears, but at least I could give her that final release, wherever it happened.
As memories of other cats crowded in on Kelly, I would feel guilt yet again about memorializing them. In 2015 as August 11 approached I found I was also having a great time with all the semi-feral foster kittens that year and that month, which might seem disrespectful. It seemed as if I was taking time away from her, and that leads to one of our biggest fears when we lose our animal companions—that they’ll be forgotten, that we will forget them ourselves.
Of course, that’s not going to happen. My memories of Lakota and Kennedy are complex and deep for all their brevity, and kitten cuteness can really heal a broken heart, but Kelly and I not only shared so much more but she had a deep connection to each other cat in my home too. There is no way other memories of other cats could ever dim the memory of Kelly in my heart.
But that wasn’t what happened. Through the years, as I’ve worked my way along that same path of memory once again, it has led to understanding and to memories of Kelly without guilt so that I find that this year, seven years later, the self-recrimination and guilt are washed away and on August 11 I remembered that magical last morning and sadly our last hours together, but I also remember the rest of our 15 years together.
It all seems so complicated, and grief can be very complicated no matter the subject of the loss, animal, human, even place or object, as I’ve studied in my series on attachments. Sometimes we are surprised by the need to go back over and over and find we may still feel guilt over the loss, or we may just enjoy a lot of happy memories. But that’s why observing these anniversaries is important, even if it only happens quietly in your own heart. To love and be loved is one of our most important gifts in life, and love is complicated, it creeps into every part of us, so are our memories.
Read more articles about pet loss.
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The sweetest memories often come in quiet moments. When I took this photo one autumn morning of Kelly in the long warm sun path from the back yard through door and across the mottled basement floor, though it was such a common event, I knew immediately this photo was special. Read more and purchase.
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